Employment trends

Striding Toward Equality

Women have made enormous inroads in commercial real estate by focusing on their skills, natural strengths, and networking

Women's innate strengths in customer service, collaboration, and sales can shine in the commercial real estate profession. Finding mentors and undergoing rigorous training in the industry are crucial to advancing in their careers, as well as doses of tenacity and assertiveness. At CCIM Institute, Soozi Jones-Walker, CCIM, SIOR, was the third woman in Nevada designated as a CCIM in 1991. Today nearly 16 percent of CCIMs are women.

Women's strategies for successful entry into the profession are as individual as their personalities and styles. Additionally, older and younger generations have had to fight different battles. Pioneers, such as Cynthia Shelton, CCIM, and Jones-Walker, broke down the toughest barriers to gain acceptance and respect from their peers and clients. Millennials, such as Bobbi Miracle, CCIM, SIOR, and Evelyn Ward, CCIM, have had a smoother path but still have had challenges to overcome.

Standing Out

“I've had many clients tell me that being a woman is a great sales tool,” says Jones-Walker, president of Commercial Executives Real Estate in Las Vegas and a 36-year veteran. “I was different, I looked different, and I thought differently. Clients knew I would work to be more prepared because I was proving myself.”

Coming from an accounting background, Jones-Walker understood numbers and was a natural saleswoman - two big assets in the profession.

“Most people get into commercial real estate because they think it's not emotional,” she says. “But it is an emotional decision. Every time you add a zero, it gets more emotional. I understand the power of numbers and could qualify and quantify properties.”

Part of her success, especially early on, came from “keeping my ego in my pocket and from earning the CCIM designation, which gave me credibility,” she says.

Pushing Back

Shelton's path started in residential real estate 40 years ago, where women were more readily accepted than in commercial real estate. “However, I didn't like being interrupted during dinner, showing people houses, and driving them around,” says Shelton, now director of investment sales at Colliers International in Orlando, Fla. “I did well as a residential agent, but I thought there must be a better way to make a living.”

In 1984, she moved to Tampa, Fla., from Vancouver, Wash., and fully launched her commercial real estate career. But first Shelton, then a 10-year licensed veteran, was offered an assistant position working for the only female broker at a large commercial real estate company.

“That was where women belonged,” Shelton says. The female broker she interviewed for the assistant position gave her some sound advice. She told Shelton if she took the assistant's job, Shelton would always be seen as an assistant and never as a commercial real estate practitioner without moving to another company and starting over. Shelton took her advice and went to a smaller company as an agent.

During her first year specializing in multifamily and doing some site selection, Shelton didn't make a dime. Her big break came when she managed to broker a deal between a Lebanese buyer and an Iranian seller, although the man who referred the deal to her had to continue to be involved due to the “woman issue” and the lack of acceptance by men.

“It took eight hours at the closing table and for five of those hours, I did not speak,” Shelton says. “I would write a note to the referring broker or ask him to step outside and told him what to do or say. At that time, there was a lot of prejudice among my peers and clients in the industry about dealing with a woman. We were not taken as seriously as our male counterparts. We had to work twice as hard to make as much money.

“Now it's different. I have a bunch of young guys who want to work with me and learn from me. They don't know what I went through to become what I am now.”

Finding Mentors

Ward got into commercial real estate by chance in 2003 when she applied for an administrative assistant position for a small commercial real estate brokerage to make extra money in college. The 30-year veteran broker/owner Ercel Brashear, CCIM, of Brashear Properties served as Ward's first mentor, encouraging her to acquire her real estate license while still at Southwestern University and earn the CCIM designation after college.

“Finding a good mentor in commercial real estate is at the top of the list to succeed in this profession,” says Ward, associate vice president at Transwestern in Houston and 2015 president of the Houston CCIM Chapter. “It doesn't matter if your mentor is a man or woman, but it needs to be someone who takes the time to train you. If you are analytical and like problem solving and challenges, then commercial real estate is a good business for you.”

When the Great Recession hit hard in Georgetown, Texas, Ward moved to Houston due to the relative strength of its economy and found another mentor, Michelle Wogan, at Transwestern. A long-time successful broker, Wogan helped Ward to understand the market in Houston, which differs substantially in size from Georgetown, and further hone her negotiating skills.

“Now I compare myself equally to men,” Ward says. “Over time, I have come to love commercial real estate. I would not fit in anywhere else. I have learned to be pushy when I need to and know when to back off. That's how I finesse and close a deal.”

Family Ties

For Miracle, commercial real estate was in her DNA. Her mother, Jones-Walker, had broken into the business and was already established and heading up her own firm.

“It was an easy transition for me,” says Miracle, senior vice president at Commercial Executives Real Estate. “But it's still a man's world, especially in the industrial sector.”

Despite her credentials as a CCIM and legacy as Jones-Walker's daughter, Miracle has been mistaken for an assistant more than once.

“Commercial real estate is for people who have strong shoulders,” she says. “Education is vital. It's also crucial to dress professionally because you want to be respected when you are meeting with clients and negotiating deals.”

For Miracle, collaboration is also paramount to her success. “You have to keep your ego in check, never let anyone see dollar signs in your eyes, and you don't want to shut anyone down,” she says.

Fortunately, Miracle and Jones-Walker can choose the clients they want to work with, and the firm specializes in sales and leasing of office, industrial, and retail properties in Las Vegas.

“We are at a place with our clients where we all shine in the end and look good together,” Miracle says.

Cultivating Partnerships

Right from the start of her career, Jones-Walker worked hard to be viewed by those involved in transactions as an asset, so her services would be valued and not seen as a threat. “A deal should be a partnership,” says Jones-Walker, who is also a CCIM senior instructor. “I took the competition out of it. I tell my students that it's all about 'we' and 'us,' not about me versus you. If the other individuals involved in a deal view you as the weaker person, they will take you out.”

Shelton's advice for women entering commercial real estate focuses on being balanced and being the best at what they do. “You cannot be feminist. You cannot be a chauvinist. You have to a human being first and then you can and will be successful,” she says.

At 31, Ward has already achieved major successes in her career and looks forward to another 30 years or more in the profession, and expects to mentor newbies through the years. She tells female and male students, “there's a real opportunity for younger people in commercial real estate. I see a big gap of talent and experience between the long-time veterans and those starting out. Mentoring helps to fill those gaps.”

Lifelong education is another crucial factor for ongoing success. “Get the education you need, be smart, and have a business plan,” Jones-Walker says. “Too many people get into a career by accident. You need to plan your career and find the business that's right for you. Also, keep learning so you can be the best in your field.”

Education, business plans, professional attire, and sterling competency have propelled these women to the top in commercial real estate. They focus on collaboration, not competition, to close transactions smoothly. And counsel being a human being first and a woman second.

While these women stand out, they also know when to keep their egos in check. All of them are committed to giving back to the industry where their careers are flourishing and mentoring those new to the profession.


Enhancing Credibility

Earning the CCIM designation enhanced the credibility and professionalism for Soozi Jones-Walker, CCIM, SIOR, Cynthia Shelton, CCIM, Evelyn Ward, CCIM, and Bobbi Miracle, CCIM, SIOR. They concur that it has contributed strongly to their success in commercial real estate profession.

“CCIM opened new worlds for me,” says Miracle, who earned her CCIM designation in 2005 and is a member of the CCIM Institute Board of Directors. “I believe that I have to give back. I have developed a passion to be involved with CCIM. The better I can make CCIM Institute, the better I am as a person and professional. I can call designees all over the country to get advice on clients. We have a built-in trust and a common core of knowledge.”

Jones-Walker credits the CCIM training and pin with boosting her career and helping her break the barriers. “The CCIM designation gave me credibility,” says Jones-Walker who earned her CCIM in 1991 and is now a CCIM senior instructor. “I was the seventh CCIM in Nevada and the third woman to be designated in the state. Also, I had the resource of other CCIMs I could call for referrals, advice, and marketing my properties. In CCIM, there’s unwritten code that if you call me, I’ll call you back.”

Designated in 1985, Shelton was the 2002 CCIM Institute President and is a CCIM senior instructor. In 2015, she was selected as one of two Realtors (from 1.5 million members) to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Realtors. Throughout her career, she found the CCIM designation raised her credibility and gave her many networking opportunities with other CCIMs. “When clients see CCIM on your business card, they know you’re one of those professionals who took tough classes and is better at what you do,” Shelton says. “CCIM education is the best, the most practical, and gives you the knowledge you need to use the numbers to close the deal.”

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Sara S. Patterson

Sara S. Patterson is former executive editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.

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